A nation’s craven rage; The want of public spirit in England shown during the war of 1745-6 is astonishing. ‘England,’ wrote Henry Fox, ’is for the first comer . . . Had 5,000 [French troops] landed in any part of this island a week ago, I verily believe the entire conquest of it would not have cost them a battle.’ And other weighty testimonies might be added, in support of Lord Mahon’s view as to the great probability of the Prince’s success, had he been allowed by his followers to march upon London from Derby.
This apathy and the panic which followed found their natural issue in the sanguinary punishment of the followers of Prince Charles. ’The city and the generality,’ wrote H. Walpole in August, 1746, ’are very angry that so many rebels have been pardoned.’ The vindictive cruelty then shown makes, in truth (if we compare the magnitude and duration of the rebellion for which punishment was to be exacted), an unsatisfactory contrast to the leniency of 1660. But History supplies only too numerous proofs that a century’s march in civilisation may be always undone at once by the demons of Panic or of Party in the hour of their respective triumphs.
Ripe to wed with Liberty; Looking at the American War of Independence without party-passion and distortion, as should now at least be possible to Englishmen, the main cause must be acknowledged to lie simply in the growth and geographical position of the Colonies, which had brought them to the age of natural liberty, and had begun to fit them for its exercise:—facts which it was equally in accordance with nature that the Fatherland should fail to perceive. For the causes which gradually determined American resistance we must look, (as regards us), not to the blundering English legislation after 1760,—to the formalism of Grenville, the subterfuges of Franklin,—but to the whole course of our commercial policy since the Revolution: As regards the Colonies, to the extinction of the power of France in America by the Treaty of Paris in 1763: (Lecky: ch. v; Mahon: ch. xliii).
The Stamp Act of 1765 brought home, indeed, to a rapidly-developing people the supremacy claimed across the Atlantic; but the obnoxious taxation which it imposed, (despite the splendid sophistry of Chatham), cannot be shown to differ essentially from the trade restrictions and monopolies enacted in long series after 1688, as the result of the predominance obtained at the Revolution by the commercial classes in this country, and which so far as 1765 the colonies openly recognized as legal.
Going, however, beyond these minor motives, the true cause was unquestionably that the time for separate life, for America to be herself, had come. This was a crisis which home-legislation could do little to create or to avert: a natural law, which only worked itself out ostensibly by political manoeuvres and military operations, so ill-managed as to be rarely creditable to either side;—and, regarded simply as a ‘struggle for existence,’ is, in the eye of impartial history, hardly within the scope of praise or censure.